Moscow can’t ignore the nuclear capability of US-designed F-16 fighter jets that may be supplied to Ukraine by its Western backers, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said.
By continuing to provide more sophisticated arms to Kiev, “the US and its NATO satellites create the risk of a direct armed confrontation with Russia, and this may lead to catastrophic consequences,” Lavrov warned in his interview with Lenta.ru on Wednesday.
The plans to supply F-16s to Kiev is yet another example of an escalatory move by the West and in itself is “an extremely dangerous development,” he stated.
“We have informed the nuclear powers – the US, UK and France – that Russia can’t ignore the ability of these aircraft to carry nuclear weapons,” the foreign minister continued.
“No assurances [by the West] will help here,” he warned. In the midst of fighting, the Russian military isn’t going to investigate whether any specific jet is equipped to deliver nuclear weapons or not, he added.
“The very fact of the appearance of such systems within the Ukrainian Armed Forces will be considered by us as a threat from the West in the nuclear domain,” Lavrov said.
In an interview on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius on Wednesday, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said “there will be the transfer of F-16s [to Ukraine], likely from European countries that have excess F-16 supplies.”
A day earlier, Denmark announced that a “coalition” – which includes the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the UK and Sweden – would begin training Ukrainian airmen to fly the US-designed aircraft in August.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba suggested earlier this week that the first F-16s piloted by Ukrainians could take to the skies “by the end of the first quarter of next year.”
Kiev has been pressing its foreign backers for fourth-generation F-16 warplanes for months, arguing that they are crucial in providing air cover for Ukraine’s troops and defending Ukrainian airspace amid a massive Russian missile campaign targeting military facilities and energy infrastructure. The US and its allies initially ruled out deliveries of the jets, saying the F-16 wasn’t the type of hardware that Ukraine needed, but changed their stance on the issue over time.
In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there was no doubt that the F-16s “will burn” once they’re delivered to Ukraine, just like what has happened to tanks and other Western-supplied weapons.